Title: Minoans under the microscope: archaeological soil micromorphology at theBronze Age site of Sissi (Crete)
Authors: Carpentier, Frank
Issue Date: 25-Feb-2015
Abstract: This PhD, funded by a KU Leuven Research Fund (Onderzoeksfonds KU Leuven) START I project, comprises the soil micromorphological analysis of samples collected at the Minoan Bronze Age cemetery and settlement of Sissi on the north coast of Crete (Greece) in 2008 and 2009. The site excavated by the Sissi Archaeological Project (SArPedon), is located at an interesting junction of main natural crossroads linking the north(west) and east parts of the island and at the same time well within the periphery of the important Bronze Age settlement of Malia. It has a rich and diverse archaeological record which spans most of the Bronze Age (EM IIA - LM IIIB) and which seems to have survived reasonably well, mainly because the hill on which the site is located, has escaped the speedy development that engulfed the area in recent decades. Excavations conducted there between 2007 and 2011 yielded an abundance of material which is now in the process of being studied. The soil micromorphological analysis which comprises this PhD featured in the wider multidisciplinary research framework of the project started in 2008. When the addition of a soil micromorphology component to the project was initially proposed, it was largely based on the merits of the technique in inter- and multidisciplinary archaeological projects worldwide. Based on the potential of soil micromorphological analysis, a series of objectives was put forward with the emphasis mostly on its value for studying the social use of space. Although archaeological soil micromorphology is currently experiencing a modest boom on Crete, the project was among the first to proceed with a dedicated, larger-scale research program. Sampling started in 2008 and continued up to the last campaign of the first five-year archaeological field work permit in 2011. As it became clear that the preservation conditions were such that no occupation surfaces could be discerned, the emphasis shifted towards studying the ubiquitous fill contexts. In fact, soil micromorphology was employed at Sissi on archaeological contexts in order to help elucidate their depositional history. In particular, the objective was to define microstratigraphical units and to differentiate within the sometimes crude chronologies based on architectural phasing and established (mainly ceramological) typologies. In addition, soil micromorphology was expected to assist the assessment of pedogenetic processes affecting the archaeological record and, hence, the interpretations based thereupon. The second (and primary) objective involved the identification of discrete occupation surfaces, as earthen and clay layers were reported in different parts of the site. Closely intertwined with the latter objective but also heavily reliant on other disciplines, the soil micromorphological research also featured as a tool for the functional analysis of the sampled spaces at Sissi. Lastly, any micromorphologically visible information regarding the past environment would help to increase the datasets for the palaeobotanical and archaeozoological specialists involved in the project.
The results of the soil micromorphological research on the Sissi samples are many. The different zones, covering the most part of the Cretan Bronze Age, provide some insight into the depositional history of the archaeological contexts. Most of them have undergone significant bioturbational reworking, with illuviation impacting the movement and redeposition of clay particles within the soil fabric. The illuviation is brought about by percolating rainwater which peaks during common torrential winter rains which are probably also responsible for the iron staining (oxidation), dissolution and transport/reworking of fine calcareous matter (e.g. micrite and calcitic ash) and the development of fungal bodies. While it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between heterogeneous, chaotic secondary dumps and thorough bioturbated sediments, bits of surviving microstratigraphy allow for at least some inferences regarding the depositional history of certain spaces. While not a main objective at the initial stages, the recognition of certain archaeologically meaningful but macroscopically missed phenomena, proved to be an added advantage of the soil micromorphology at Sissi. For instance the identification of (laminated) plaster at an Early Minoan Sissi house tomb enabled a link to contemporary and similar house tombs at the nearby site of Mochlos, where in situ plaster was attested. The (repeated) application of plaster to the Sissi house tombs provides a crucial bit of interpretational evidence regarding funeral practices. The analysis of the contexts at the Late Minoan I Building BA at the midway terrace provided interesting insights into the large-scale deposition of material in a subterranean space - reaffirming the field archaeological, ceramological and archaeozoological view that it was filled rapidly by a substantially sized, anthropogenic deposit. This deposit was recognised as a combination of debris clearance and domestic (dietary) refuse. Moreover, the soil micromorphological analysis identified volcanic glass particles embedded within the fill, which - given the identification of a concentration of volcanic ash in the adjacent space and the LM IA-B date of the building - makes for a tentative connection to the period in the aftermath of the Minoan eruption of Thera/Santorini. The extensive complex (Buildings CD and E) on the hilltop yielded the only results with preserved bits of microstratigraphy with a prominent hearth in Building CD context consisting of 15 discernible layers related to the short-term use/inactivity of the hearth. Moreover, a tentative, turbated precursor may have been identified within the thin section suggesting the hearth may have been a formalised structure. In Building E, a destruction by fire could be confirmed through an in situ baked surface. However, the morphogenetic properties to which this surface belonged, as well as additional micromorphologically identified evidence, suggests the space may have been derelict or abandoned prior to its destruction. The absence of (microscopic) charcoal in this respect may be indicative of efficient (and intentional) combustion although the macroscopic evidence seems to dispel that. In several cases (six out of nine sampled spaces at the hilltop), the macroscopically identified "destruction layers" appeared to be secondary in nature and consisted rather of cleared and redeposited destruction (or, arguably, posterior collapse) material, possibly related to a post-destruction reoccupation of (part of) the hilltop.
The findings in this study highlight the added value soil micromorphology can bring to archaeology and more particularly the study of Aegean Bronze Age contexts, even when dealing with significantly reworked soils or in the absence of macroscopically observable sequences. Clues about the degradation of the structure and the post-depositional processes and conditions will help interpret the record. Moreover, important archaeological details that were missed during field work, can be intercepted during the micromorphological analysis. Finally, the samples provide a permanent (but selected) record of the soil at the time of excavation. It ought to be noted that despite the limitations and the expenses required for thin section production and analysis, the results in this study have been promising and further micromorphological analysis in Cretan Bronze Age contexts could certainly enrich the understanding of similar phenomena which cannot be detected macroscopically. However, a better and more equitable integration of soil micromorphology and other disciplines into the archaeological practice would undoubtedly yield far better results.
Table of Contents: Preface_vii
Minoan chronology_xix

1. Introduction_1
1.1. General_2
1.1.1. Synopsis_2
1.1.2. Content outline_3
1.2. Sissi_5
1.2.1. Kephali tou Agiou Antoniou_5
1.2.2. Geophysical history and setting_7
1.2.3. Archaeological remains_15 The cemetery (Zones 1 and 9)_17 The house(-workshop)s (Zone 2)_22 The hilltop buildings (Zones 3, 4, 5 and 8)_25 The court building (Zone 6)_36 The hill foot structure (Zone 7)_41
1.3. Research outline_41
1.3.1. Archaeological soil micromorphology_41
1.3.2. Archaeological soil micromorphology on Crete_45
1.3.3. Archaeological soil micromorphology at Sissi_50
1.4. Research objectives_51
1.4.1. Establishing depositional history and turbation extent_51
1.4.2. Identification of occupation surfaces_52
1.4.3. Assessing functional use(s) of space_52
1.4.4. Gathering exterior contextual information_52
1.5. Concluding remarks_53

2. Methodology_55
2.1. Research framework_56
2.1.1. The position of the soil micromorphologist at Sissi_56
2.1.2. Impact of project structure on research_59
2.2. Sampling method_61
2.2.1. Sampling focus_61
2.2.2. Sampling strategy_62
2.2.3. Sampling technique_66
2.3. Sample processing_67
2.3.1. Administration_67
2.3.2. Impregnation and cutting_69
2.3.3. Thin section production_70
2.4. Thin section analysis_70
2.4.1. Documentation_70
2.4.2. Description and quantification_73
2.4.3. Additional analyses_77
2.5. Theoretical-interpretative framework_79
2.5.1. Current paradigmatic consensus_79
2.5.2. Theoretical reflections on soil micromorphology_82
2.5.3. Further theoretical reflections on present research_86
2.6. Concluding remarks_89

3. Restrictions_91
3.1. Representativeness_92
3.1.1. Representativeness of the archaeological record_92
3.1.2. Sampling bias_96
3.1.3. Cognitive bias_99
3.2. Postdepositional processes_102
3.2.1. Erosion_102
3.2.2. Colluvium_103
3.2.3. Turbation_103
3.3. Equifinality_105
3.4. Concluding remarks_106

4. Descriptions_109
4.1. The cemetery (Zone 1)_110
4.1.1. Sample S1_110
4.1.2. Sample S2_113
4.1.3. Sample S3_120
4.2. The house(-workshop)s (Zone 2)_125
4.2.1. Sample S4_125
4.2.2. Sample S5_130
4.2.3. Sample S6_134
4.2.4. Sample S7_142
4.3. The hilltop buildings (Zones 3, 4 and 5)_147
4.3.1. Sample S8_147
4.3.2. Sample S9_158
4.3.3. Sample S10_167
4.3.4. Sample S11_173
4.3.5. Sample S12_175
4.3.6. Sample S13_182
4.3.7. Sample S14_184
4.3.8. Sample S15_189
4.3.9. Sample S16_191
4.3.10. Sample S17_198
4.3.11. Sample S18_206
4.3.12. Sample S19_211
4.3.13. Sample S20_215
4.3.14. Sample S21_218
4.4. Concluding remarks_224

5. Interpretations_227
5.1. The cemetery (Zone 1)_228
5.1.1. House tomb 1.11-1.12_228
5.1.2. House tomb 1.16_235
5.1.3. Summary_239
5.2. The house(-workshop)s (Zone 2)_240
5.2.1. Space 2.1_240
5.2.2. Space 2.2_247
5.2.3. Summary_249
5.3. The hilltop buildings (Zones 3, 4 and 5)_251
5.3.1. Space 3.4_251
5.3.2. Space 4.6_255
5.3.3. Space 4.8_256
5.3.4. Space 4.9_260
5.3.5. Space 4.10_263
5.3.6. Space 4.11_265
5.3.7. Space 5.10_266
5.3.8. Space 5.12_269
5.3.9. Space 5.13_271
5.3.10. Summary_276
5.4. Concluding remarks_277

6. Conclusions_281
6.1. General_282
6.1.1. On broader research framework and objectives_282
6.1.2. On methodology_283
6.1.3. On restrictions_283
6.2. Results_285
6.2.1. Interpretative_285
6.2.2. Reflexive_287

7. References_289

8. Annex (USB)
8.1. Thin section photographs
8.1.1. The cemetery (Zone 1)
8.1.2. The house(-workshop)s (Zone 2)
8.1.3. The hilltop buildings (Zones 3, 4 and 5)
8.2. High-resolution photographs of S8B
8.2.1. PPL
8.2.2. XPL
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Archaeology, Leuven

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